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Sealed with a kiss

The Northern Rhône 2006s may not have generated much publicity, but JOHN LIVINGSTONE-LEARMONTH predicts plenty of success for this fine, fruit-heavy vintage. And it’s all down to a very welcome French kiss…

Fruit, and lots of it, is the hallmark of the 2006 vintage in the Northern Rhône. Wines such as the Crozes-Hermitage reds bound along with bright personalities; the classic cuvées bring easy drinking and fun times to mind. More serious wines such as Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie are imbued with generous Syrah fruit, the latter the most intriguing appellation of the northern area this time around.

Growers report the Syrah harvest as having been straightforward to vinify. They had loving help at hand. The cooling north wind – the Bise (the Kiss) – helped concentrate the grapes. The crop was healthy, an even ripening aided by 20% more rainfall than in 2005. Yields were full, even above average. It is a year that emphasises the Northern Rhône’s finesse, and its affinity more with Burgundy than the Southern Rhône. The wines of Côte-Rôtie in

their second year of life have made the most pleasing progress since vinification.

The fruit proportion of the wines is evident, but there has been a steady gain in surrounding matter, with beckoning complexity as a consequence. ‘The 2006 is one of the most beau Côte-Rôties we have made – profound, very aromatic, not heavy in any way,’ says Yves Gangloff. René Rostaing, whose top two cuvées come from prime sites the Côte Blonde and La Landonne, agrees: ‘2006 is very classic, like 2004 – a vintage on the supple side that is fine and elegantly structured. It is not a fanfare wine.’ Côte-Rôtie 2006 may not receive the glare of publicity, but I back it to do well. More than 45 have been tasted, and consistent across many domaines, including small growers and less highprofile producers.

Looking back

In addition, 2006 has the sort of slow burn gain in depth and variety that brings to mind past gradual successes such as 1991 and, reaching far back to my earliest wine days, 1967. I would cite it as a Burgundian-style year, led by finesse and supple tannins, with a little helping of mystery. The wines hold agreeable, well founded richness, and ripe, well-behaved tannins with just a little bite. The only intrusion is the amount of oak, a recurring issue for Côte-Rôtie over the last decade. Most wines can be drunk from 2010,

provided the oak has been absorbed. all well defined in 2006; they are still secure in their new oak casks and not due for bottling until early 2010. The Mouline is floral, with a sweet-toned bouquet and verve on the palate’s open fruit. The Turque reflects its characteristic soaked red cherries on the bouquet and a friendly ensemble on the palate. The Landonne is an arresting combination of the open fruit of the year, along with the crisp, oxide mineral of its place. René Rostaing also merits a highlight, with his three cuvées all doing well. ‘My La Landonne 2006 was very good for a long time but closed up in November 2007,’ he says, ‘just as the Blonde started to open. It’s often like that between thetwo of them.’ His classic Côte-Rôtie is faithful to both place and vintage, marked by bright black fruits with a live thread of tannin and a good, clear-toned finish.

Such clarity comes through particularly at low-intervention domaines such as Clusel-Roch, for both its classic wine and the outstanding Les Grandes Places. Hermitage has followed the vintage trail pretty faithfully, but one has to sort out the big names this year. The hierarchy defined by the ownership of the hill and its lesser easterly outposts means that the terroir quality resides most comfortably with the big west-end owners: Delas, Chapoutier, Paul Jaboulet Aîné and Jean-Louis Chave. Bernard Faurie and Marc Sorrel also have access to some of the most prized climats or sites of Les Bessards, Le Méal and L’Hermite.

Delas has produced an authentic Marquise de la Tourette red which holds

a nice bout of richness, while the top Les Bessards possesses well-judged ripeness of

fruit: here we have an encapsulation of the vintage through clarity and poised ripe fruit. Chapoutier has also performed well, the regular Marquis de la Sizeranne profound but capable of coming together from 2010. This is the style of wine produced by the smaller domaines based in Crozes-Hermitage, such as Belle, Martinelles and Remizières: the oaking is marked on all three, but the wines have juice and a fairly wholesome potential – as does the Cave de Tain’s Gambert de Loche cuvée.

The special Le Pavillon from Chapoutier holds fruit reminiscent of the 1985 in its sunny youth, and the top cuvée wines from this house are likely to be on a sound footing from 2011-12, with life into the late 2020s. Paul Jaboulet Aîné poses a question, however, since 2006 is its first complete vintage since the acquisition by the Swiss Frey family in late 2005. The wine is now being made by Bordeaux consultant winemakers, notably the white-wine specialist Denis Dubourdieu, and the La Chapelle 2006 – a wine highly important to the image of Hermitage and the Northern Rhône – has emerged as a refined, ‘don’t-scare-the-horses’ offering – a Rhône for those who do not know the Rhône in many ways. The jury hasto be out at such moments of transition. Role reversal Jean-Louis Chave’s red Hermitage – tasted before the assembly of the final wine – promises to be a wine of scented allure and round body. 2006 here is unusual in the role reversal of the tannins: the usual provider of the wine’s backbone, the Les Bessards climat, holds stylish fruit and comes on the gourmandise side, while the provider of fleshy red fruits, Le Méal, is more tannic than usual, with noticeable grip and clarity. This may be drinkable on its primary fruit, but ideally from around 2011, with a life of around 26 years.

Cornas, a live pretender to top trio status in the Northern Rhône, also contributed fruit-filled wines, with some extra acidity and tannins. By the summer of 2008, Pierre Clape felt the wines were starting to adjust: ‘Our wines are just closing up now and are a touch austere.’ Vincent Paris, who in 2007 took over most of his retiring uncle Robert Michel’s vineyard, finds there is ‘a lot of perfume and good acidity support, which can allow a steady, slow evolution’. Thierry Allemand, the enfant terrible of Cornas, terms the vintage ‘pretty’: his wines in cask have spring in the fruit and finish clearly – they are more readable than the heavily weighted 2005s but can knit together well and will run for 15–20 years.

Crozes-Hermitage reds are rounded and comfortable, the best providing attractive, perky drinking. ‘The reds are less tight than the 2005s so are easier to drink, with well-rounded matter,’ comments Philippe Jaboulet of Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet. However, winemaking issues hover at Crozes: one is clumsy oaking, with growers following the 2005 model too closely.

There is also a move towards more sweetly textured wines due to late harvesting and long

macerations, which I regard as a pity – give me fresh fruit any day. Perhaps it was a challenge to achieve a tannic structure in 2006; as a result, several growers have plush, perfumed wines. It is a vintage to drink young and early – up to, say, five to six years for most of them. St-Joseph reds show that 2006 was a sound vintage, but one when the growers had to take trouble, so the better domaines come to the fore. As at Crozes, oak is an issue. The vintage is intrinsically soft the tannins low key, but the oak is often being used as a substitute for vineyard content. ‘The reds are for early to midterm drinking,’ says Frédéric Boissonnet of Domaine Boissonnet. ‘They are a bit more concentrated than 2004, with a greater touch of elegance, since the ripeness was better.’ Drink most of these before 2012. The longest-lived wines, from older vines or those judiciously oaked, such as the Domaine du Monteillet Cuvée du Papy, can run for 10 years or so. Well balanced

The dark horse of 2006 is the white St- Joseph, as munificent and balanced a vintage as I can recall across many domaines. The Marsanne and Roussanne work in good juxtaposition this year – both ripe, without excess, assembling body with a piquancy of clarity and length as well. These are wines to drink in 2008–09 or to leave until around 2011.Similarly, but without the spread of quality, comes St-Péray, ahead of the white Crozes-Hermitages. The best St-Pérays have an appealing silken flow, tinged with a little mineral pep from their

sanded granite homelands. The Crozes should be drunk up in the next two years. white Hermitages impress, however. Two less well-known performers are Domaine Fayolle Fils & Fille with Les Dionnières, and the new Domaine Philippe & Vincent Jaboulet, starting with a rich Roussanne Ermitage from 30- and 20-year-old vines that is just a little heady. The more noble white Hermitages are currently clad in oak but will come together by 2011-12 via finesse and texture rather than power and muscle.

By contrast, 2006 is an uneven year at Condrieu, where a fast gain in alcohol presented severe challenges. The vintage was also ‘difficult to vinify’, according to Christine Vernay of Domaine Georges Vernay – a fact confirmed by Philippe fermentations only ended in June 2007. But Guigal’s La Doriane 2006 is the most outstanding Condrieu of the year: gracious, and bewitchingly aromatic. Some later-picked Condrieus benefited from a glorious October, so keep an eye out for Yves Cuilleron and Domaine du Monteillet.

Written by John Livingstone – Learmouth

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